Type packetstorm
Reporter Solar Designer
Modified 2000-07-25T00:00:00


                                            `-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----  
OW-002-netscape-jpeg, revision 1  
July 25, 2000  
JPEG COM Marker Processing Vulnerability in Netscape Browsers  
This advisory explains a vulnerability in Netscape browsers present  
since at least version 3.0 and up to Netscape 4.73 and Mozilla M15.  
The vulnerability is fixed in Netscape 4.74 and Mozilla M16.  
It may be possible, although hard to do reliably in a real-world  
attack, for a malicious web site to execute arbitrary assembly code  
in the context of the web browser. In the case of Netscape Mail or  
News, the attack may be performed via a mail message or a news  
article, as well.  
Vulnerability details  
JPEG interchange format streams consist of an ordered collection of  
markers, parameters, and entropy-coded data segments. Many markers  
start marker segments, which consist of the marker followed by a  
sequence of related parameters. Marker segments are of a variable  
length, with the first parameter being the two-byte length. The  
encoded length includes the size of the length parameter itself.  
Thus, lengths smaller than 2 are always invalid.  
Netscape browsers use the Independent JPEG Group's decoder library  
for JPEG File Interchange Format (JFIF) files. However, they install  
a custom handler for processing the COM (comment) marker that stores  
the comment in memory rather than just skip it like the library would  
do. Unfortunately, the new handler doesn't check whether the length  
field is valid, and subtracts 2 from the encoded length to calculate  
the length of the comment itself. It then allocates memory for the  
comment (with one additional byte for its NUL termination) and goes  
into a loop to read the comment into that memory.  
By setting the length field to 1, it is possible to ensure the memory  
allocation call (of 0 bytes) will succeed. As the calculated comment  
length is declared unsigned, it will be a huge positive value rather  
than a small negative one, so the loop won't terminate until the end  
of JPEG stream. It will read the JPEG stream onto the heap, possibly  
overwriting other dynamically allocated buffers of Netscape, as well  
as structures internal to the malloc(3) implementation. Exploiting  
this vulnerability into executing arbitrary code is non-trivial, but  
possible on some platforms.  
The real problem  
Is this problem in the lack of error checking in the code? Indeed.  
A programmer's fault. Is this a problem because of the choice of a  
programming language that doesn't offer overflow checking and with  
compilers that traditionally don't offer bound checking? Partially.  
However, let's see how many different file formats, languages, and  
protocols a modern web browser has to support. Have all of the file  
parsers been initially implemented with intent to be robust against  
untrusted and possibly malicious data? If not, have all possible  
cases been covered with additional checks now? Do we have a reason  
to believe there're no bugs in the implementation of any of those, or  
do we have reasons to suspect the opposite?  
Solutions? There's little an end user can do, but you can take this  
advisory as yet another reminder to run the web browser you use to  
access untrusted content in a restricted environment, without access  
to your most critical data. Unfortunately, this isn't easy to do in  
the Win32 world, yet.  
Upgrade to Netscape 4.74 or Mozilla M16, or newer.  
Alternatively, Mozilla users can apply the following patch (against  
Milestone 15) and rebuild the sources:  
- --- mozilla/modules/libimg/jpgcom/jpeg.cpp.orig Tue Mar 28 02:08:15 2000  
+++ mozilla/modules/libimg/jpgcom/jpeg.cpp Wed May 24 17:24:03 2000  
@@ -469,6 +469,10 @@  
/* Get 16-bit comment length word. */  
INPUT_2BYTES(cinfo, length, return FALSE);  
+ if (length < 2) {  
+ cinfo->err->msg_code = JERR_BAD_LENGTH;  
+ il_error_exit((j_common_ptr)cinfo);  
+ }  
length -= 2; /* discount the length word itself */  
Included in the archive accompanying this advisory (see below) is an  
unofficial binary patch for older versions of Netscape browsers on  
some platforms. Source code and a Win32 binary of the patch program  
are provided. You should only use the patch if you can't upgrade to  
a fixed version. There's absolutely no warranty.  
This patch prevents the browser from installing its own COM marker  
handler rather than fix the handler itself. The latter would require  
extra code and result in much larger search patterns that wouldn't  
apply to as many versions of Netscape.  
Please note that this may refuse to apply to your version of Netscape,  
or this may not work for you. Be sure to check that the patch has  
worked as intended by trying to display the demonstration JFIF file  
(crash.jpg). Your browser should no longer crash, and you should see  
an image identical to that in valid.jpg (even though crash.jpg is in  
fact an invalid JFIF file, but that isn't a security issue any longer  
and is just the way the Independent JPEG Group's library works).  
Exploiting the vulnerability  
The vulnerability lets us overwrite heap locations beyond the end of  
allocated area. We're limited to printable characters, NUL, and LF.  
Thus, the ability to exploit this into doing more than a crash will  
depend on locale settings on some platforms.  
First, we need to decide on what we overwrite. Structures internal  
to the dynamic memory implementation are the most promising target:  
they're always there and they typically contain pointers.  
For the example below, we'll assume Doug Lea's malloc (which is used  
by most Linux systems, both libc 5 and glibc) and locale for an 8-bit  
character set (such as most locales that come with glibc, including  
en_US, or ru_RU.KOI8-R).  
The following fields are kept for every free chunk on the list: size  
of the previous chunk (if free), this chunk's size, and pointers to  
next and previous chunks. Additionally, bit 0 of the chunk size is  
used to indicate whether the previous chunk is in use (LSB of actual  
chunk size is always zero due to the structure size and alignment).  
By playing with these fields carefully, it is possible to trick calls  
to free(3) into overwriting arbitrary memory locations with our data.  
free(3) checks if a chunk adjacent to the one being freed is in use  
and, if not, consolidates the two chunks by unlinking the adjacent  
chunk from the list. Unlinking a chunk involves setting the previous  
chunk's "next" pointer and the next chunk's "previous" pointer, where  
both of these chunks are addressed via pointers from the chunk being  
unlinked. Thus, in order to get control over these memory writes, we  
need to overwrite the two pointers within a chunk (or maybe allocated  
memory at the time) and preferably reset the PREV_INUSE flag of the  
next chunk. This takes 13 bytes on a 32-bit little endian, such as  
Linux/x86 (8 bytes for the two pointers, four bytes placeholder for  
the previous size field, and 1 byte to reset the flag). In practice,  
we would want to repeat the desired 16-byte pattern (of which only 9  
bytes matter) at least several times to increase our chances in case  
of larger allocated chunks.  
The overwritten pointers each serve as both the address and the data  
being stored, which limits our choice of data: it has to be a valid  
address as well, and memory at that address should be writable.  
Now we need to decide what pointer we want to overwrite (there's not  
that much use in overwriting a non-pointer with an address). A good  
candidate would be any return address on the stack. That would work,  
but not be very reliable as the location of a return address depends  
on how much other data is on the stack, including program arguments,  
and that is generally not known for a remote attack. A better target  
would be a function pointer. We don't want to guess exact locations  
on the stack and we can't get to the ELF sections on x86 (BS isn't a  
printable character), so we're effectively limited to pointers within  
shared libraries. A nice one we can use is __free_hook, so that the  
second call to free(3) will give us the control. The debugging hooks  
are always compiled in when Doug Lea's code is a part of GNU libc.  
Our next decision is about where we want the control transferred. We  
would definitely prefer to have our "shellcode" within the JFIF file  
itself. However, the character set restriction might prevent us from  
passing heap addresses. We have to settle on the stack and place our  
code in there via other parts of the browser prior to the overflow.  
We can use a bunch of NOP's or equivalent to avoid having to provide  
an exact stack location.  
A compiler to produce JFIF files implementing the above approach is  
included in the accompanying archive.  
Please note that this is by no means limited to Linux/x86. It's just  
that one platform had to be chosen for the example. So far, this is  
known to be exploitable on at least one Win32 installation in a very  
similar way (via ntdll!RtlFreeHeap).  
Additional programs and example JFIF files mentioned in this advisory  
are provided in the accompanying archive, which can be downloaded via  
one of these links:  
MD5 (OW-002-netscape-jpeg-r1.tar.gz) = 05b9879474e6b8988cd3141760e07826  
MD5 ( = ea3a7febd3d8410382bcbf7463cf32a3  
JPEG interchange format is documented in ISO International Standard  
10918-1 and CCITT (now ITU-T) Recommendation T.81.  
JFIF specification and the IJG library are available at:  
Credits and contact information  
This vulnerability was found and advisory written by Solar Designer  
<>. I would like to thank Kevin Murray of Netscape  
Communications and many others from both the Mozilla community and  
Netscape for their support in handling of this vulnerability.  
Updated versions of this and other Openwall advisories will be made  
available at:  
Version: 2.6.3ia  
Charset: noconv